Channel recruitment and VAR staffing best practices

For many solution providers, VAR staffing challenges present a stumbling block for growth. Get advice for overcoming those challenges.

There is no shortage of work for well-reputed, respected channel companies. But to do the work, you of course need staff. And that's easier said than done. Indeed, in a spring 2013 SearchITChannel survey of IT solution providers, recruiting skilled professionals was among the top five challenges survey respondents in the United States and Canada said they face. 

As the U.S. jobless rate goes down -- as it has since its peak of about 10% at the end of 2009 -- and competition for skilled IT workers goes up, the channel recruitment problem becomes more severe. Foote Partners, which tracks IT employment trends in the United States, reported in January that, on average, about 9,500 IT jobs were added to the economy every month in 2012.

For some value-added resellers (VARs) and other solution providers, recruitment challenges are hindering further growth.

"I certainly would like more [business], but our issue right now, frankly, is finding decent talent. We have turned down some significant opportunities in the last couple years because our bench was too thin and we've been too successful at selling. And we'd rather walk away from an opportunity than let our reputation get injured by taking a deal and not being able to deliver on it," said Kevin McDonald, executive vice president and director of compliance practices for Alvaka Networks Inc., a managed service provider (MSP) based in Irvine, Calif. (McDonald periodically writes articles for SearchITChannel.)

"Hiring is a big issue for us companywide, and it's our biggest constraint to growth," said Rich Young, marketing director for eGroup, a solution provider based in Mount Pleasant, S.C. "If we can't get more engineers and project delivery people on board, then we can't get more customers. And we don't want to burn out the people we have." (Young also periodically writes articles for SearchITChannel.)

Tips to ease the channel recruitment process

  1. Reality-check your expectations: Recruitment is unlikely to be easy or fast.
  2. Know the technical and management skills and work ethic you seek in a candidate.
  3. Use your network to identify prospects.
  4. Avoid hiring new college graduates. They may be cheap and ambitious, but they are less likely to remain in the industry than someone who has stuck with the IT channel for at least a few years.
  5. Consider former military personnel with IT experience. According to Weaver, these folks can be a good fit for IT channel companies.  
  6. Leverage your media and marketing efforts. Include contact information on your press releases (which raise awareness of your company) and list open job positions on your website.
  7. Use paid job advertising services sparingly, if at all. According to our experts, the value from these services is on a par with free advertising.

The challenges of recruiting

"[Recruiting is] a problem because we don't have any schools or universities producing credential curriculum that is specific to our industry," said Charles Weaver, CEO of MSPAlliance, a Chico, Calif.-based organization for MSPs and cloud providers. "MSPs are having to retrain tech people and turn them into what they need. That tends to work pretty well if they get the right people, but I can't say there's been a lot of success in doing that. A lot of MSPs find recruiting good, qualified people a challenge."

McDonald echoed this sentiment: "Our biggest problem with finding talent is the misrepresentation in resumes. Because of companies' resistance to properly reference and tell you about the history of an employee because of [the potential for] lawsuits, you have to date quite a few ogres before you find the prince or princess you're looking for. The resume and reality often don't match, so we spend a lot of time fishing a large pool of talent looking for the superstars that we need," McDonald said.

Recruiting is a time-consuming process for VARs and service providers alike, and that, in and of itself, can be a challenge for some organizations. Those who face that reality up front find rewards in taking an unhurried approach. "We haven't had a challenge [recruiting], but part of it is we know where to look and we're patient," said Pete Sclafani, CIO of 6connect Inc., a Silicon Valley-based network automation solutions provider.

According to Sclafani, 6connect has taken three months to find an engineer. During that time, the company saw a good mix of qualified candidates and, for some, they couldn't act fast enough. "But you have to encourage the hiring person to take their time and make sure they find the right person rather than rush to fill the void," Sclafani said. Otherwise, the temptation is to hire someone who looks good on paper, ignoring any instincts to the contrary, and you end up with a personnel issue down the road, he said. 

Great value in referrals

The best way to avoid this scenario is to hire referrals. "If it's a referral, it's vetted to some extent. You feel better spending time on a candidate and feeling them out," Sclafani said.

Successful channel recruitment is all about whom you know for Toby Zellers, vice president of strategy and solutions for McLean, Va.-based TVAR Solutions, a VAR serving the U.S. government. "If I think about the three best people I worked with at Apple, NetApp and Veritas, I have a strong network of talented people to draw from. You multiply that by the other 10 people at the company, and we have a tremendous network of people who lack drama, are hardworking, can maintain the reputation of the company as a credible source, and have integrity and good product knowledge," he said. "The hard thing to do is to hire someone right out of college because you don't know anything about them."

Alvaka Networks relies on its own engineers and staff to tell them about people who are between jobs or are looking for a new opportunity, but like vetting resumes from a job posting, this takes time. "I might reach into a company to try to get them, but we don't do that very often; it's offensive and not an ethical way to do business. We wait for people to indicate that they're ready to leave, but we won't try to wedge between an employee and employer. That's probably why it's difficult. We try to do it ethically, and that's a hard thing to do," McDonald said.

About the author
Crystal Bedell is a freelance technology writer. She can be reached via email and LinkedIn.

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